Xavier Niel, the group chairman of Iliad which owns French mobile start-up Free Mobile, says the fledgling mobile unit had signed up around five million users by mid-January, compared to 4.4 million at 30 September 2012. Le Figaro newspaper cites the official as saying that just under 25% of the cellco’s user base pays ‘nothing’ for their service, in terms of a monthly contract or pre-paid option, as they are quadruple-play customers who opted for its two-hour plan with unlimited SMS texts. However, Niel was at pains to point out that such users are profitable, given that they form part of the wider group revenues for ADSL access, international calls, incoming calls and handset sales.
The Iliad supremo was tight-lipped when questioned on whether or not 90% of Free Mobile’s traffic was routed over Orange France’s network, but did say that his unit’s network coverage is expanding quickly since it switched on its 900MHz spectrum (returned to it by incumbent mobile network operators). According to Niel, the newcomer’s mobile signal is currently available to half of the French population, up from 37% in July last year when industry regulator Arcep carried out a review of coverage rates.